' ' Cinema Romantico: 1 Mile to You

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

1 Mile to You

Running movies typically center on either the timeworn conventions of competition or the spiritualism inherent in the physical act itself as the seminal running movie of our time “Chariots of Fire” proves by focusing on both, with Harold Abrahams seeking to run everyone else off their feet and Eric Liddell seeking to find God in the rapid movement of his feet. Director Leif Tilden’s “1 Mile to You” is the latter, honing in on a high school prodigy named Kevin (Graham Rogers) whose girlfriend and best friend perish in a bus accident after a track meet. That’s a melodramatic turn in the wake of a fairly realistic opening, a strongly edited track meet that demonstrates how the events themselves often take a back seat to the sort of mixer-ish atmosphere in the infield and around the track’s edges. But then “1 Mile to You”, culled from a novel by Jeremy Jackson, honors its primarily youthful protagonists by going straight YA, and in going YA it chooses to forgo the traditional loneliness of the long distance runner to surround him with all the necessary YA character archetypes. And so if running is supposed to provide clarity, “1 Mile to You” is undone by character and narrative clutter, a contrast to, say, “Without Limits”, Robert Towne’s wonderful 1998 Steve Prefontaine biopic that might have a little too much extra too but still knew full well that its bread was buttered on the track.

I mention “Without Limits” because “1 Mile to You” features that film’s star Billy Crudup metamorphosing nearly twenty years later from the protégé to the mentor, playing Coach K, who naturally takes Kevin under his wing, even as others in Coach K’s sphere seek to ingratiate themselves and potentially profit off this one of a kind talent, the movie’s most intriguing plotline with its best performance. Crudup plays directly to a mantra repeated by characters throughout – that is, “distance runners are crazy.” Indeed, Crudup purposely plays a few notes out of tune, like too many years of 10ks before breakfast have left him a little loopy, but he also stakes out the hard-to-find ground between earnest and selfish, as Coach K yearns to maximize Kevin’s talent even as he senses that what Kevin needs might well be something off the track. Less successful are the paint-by-numbers romantic relationship, where Kevin’s new lady friend looks oddly like his old lady friend, inadvertently suggesting a teenybopper “Vertigo”, which might have been a helluva an angle to play, to a hateful rival, a detour that goes so far as to (unintentionally?) ape Ferris Bueller’s swimming pool rescue of Cameron Frye. Then again, the latter’s less than convincing rendering does underline Kevin’s disinterest in traditional competition, which becomes that much more apparent in how his running is less about winning than exorcism.

The success of running movies, naturally, correlates directly to running, but, appropriately for an already busy movie, Tilden opts not to try and convey anguish and recovery through the act of running but by transforming Kevin’s various runs into stylistic bogs of hazy flashbacks mingling with out of focus dreams, where he visits his girlfriend’s ghost, or something, and chases after the school bus in the moments before it plunges off the bridge, the dramatic concluding race wrapping up with a mental manifestation of that school bus on the track before the bus eventually gives way to a real bus leaving the parking lot that he really runs after. It’s the cinematic equivalent of spangly novel descriptions, literalizing the idea of running as therapy rather than letting the running speak for and do the job itself.

All these visitations to the past in his mind become self-flagellation of sorts, which would not be so bad, possibly interesting, if these moments were not so often underscored with bits of emo-pop and described by Kevin in dialogue that seems to suggest this mental rabbit hole is more of a sanctuary than a prison, which means the visuals are at odds with what the music and words tell us. There is so much happening in “1 Mile to You” that it can never quite figure if Kevin is running toward something or just running away.

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